Scotland

Flora MacNeil, the "Queen of Gaelic singers", dies at the age of 86

Flora MacNeil singing live Image copyright Donald MacLeod
Image caption Flora MacNeil singing as part of the Celtic Connections festival in 2013

The Gaelic singer Flora MacNeil has died at the age of 86 after a short illness.

Described as "the Queen of Gaelic singers", Ms MacNeil was heavily involved in the revival of Gaelic music after the end of World War II.

She grew up on Barra but later moved to Edinburgh, where her talent was discovered by the poet and folk song collector Hamish Henderson.

Her daughter, Maggie MacInnes, is also a Gaelic singer and harp player.

Flora MacNeil was born in 1928 on Barra, in the Outer Hebrides. She came from a long line of singers on both sides of the family, but she learnt most of her repertoire from her mother, Ann Gillies.

At that time the men in the family would often be away at sea, and the women would sing as they went about their work on the croft.

Through this and ceilidhs with neighbours, Ms MacNeil spoke of how she "soaked up" hundreds of songs.

Image caption Flora MacNeil as a young woman

Field recordings

In 1948 Ms MacNeil left Barra to move to Edinburgh, where she began performing in public at ceilidhs and concerts.

It was these that brought her to the attention of Hamish Henderson, who in the 1950s was acting as a guide to the American folklorist, Alan Lomax.

Ms MacNeil was recorded by Mr Lomax as part of his ongoing project, compiling a library of field recordings of world folk.

In 1951, Henderson also invited her to perform at the inaugural Edinburgh People's Festival Ceilidh, which was feted as the first time traditionally performed Scottish music was performed on a public stage.

This helped bring her to wider acclaim. She performed across Europe and America and released two albums - Craobh nan Ubhal in 1976 and Orain Floraidh in 2000.

She has been described as "one of the last true carriers of a living oral tradition", and numerous traditional musicians such as Karen Matheson and Julie Fowlis cite her as an influence on their careers.